Agents should plan now for the traditional ‘wave’ season of cruise marketing and special offers in the New Year, to cater for pent-up demand.

That was the message from three cruise line bosses speaking during a panel discussion with Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley at the virtual Clia forum on Thursday (October 29).

Jo Rzymowska, Celebrity Cruises’ EMEA vice president and managing director, said “without a doubt” there will be a wave, especially with the hope of vaccinations and therapies in the pipeline.

However, this wave season will be different, she added, because marketing campaigns will mix messages about health and safety with the usual themes of destinations and onboard experiences.

Another key message will about how new technology such as apps can reduce touchpoints – such as menus and TV remote controls – and how passengers won’t have to congregate for muster.

“We’re finding in all the research that technology is really critical,” she said.

Rzymowska highlighted social media as an important and cost-effective channel for spreading the message about cruising, and agents can use plenty of content from the cruise lines.

Giles Hawke, chief executive at Cosmos Tours and Cruises and Avalon Waterways UK, urged agents to analyse their database and plan a two-track marketing strategy.

“One track will be a very low-cost marketing approach, which is hitting a database through low-cost methods,” he said.

“As you start to see some return, then bring in the second track, which may be more above-the-line spending, some more online spend.

“But don’t go mad and blow your money on the first of January, because we’ve got to see that the demand is there.

“We might see stronger bookings for the second half of the year than the first half of the year until we get the good news that we all need around vaccines and the FCDO changing their mind [about the travel advisory against cruising].”

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Bernard Carter, senior vice-president and managing director at Oceania Cruises, agreed, saying: “It’s not about blowing the budget straightaway, it’s about taking the low-hanging fruit – looking at the people that you’re talking with regularly…then you can start spreading the net wider.”

Hawke also urged agents to study the cruise lines’ “peace of mind policies” regarding cancellations and amendments.

“They need to be reassured that their money is safe and, as a travel agent, you can communicate that and it shouldn’t be a barrier to sale,” he said.

All three agreed there is pent-up demand and that the cruise market will return when the regulators allow operations to re-start.

Hawke said lots of his customers have opted for cruise credits rather than refunds as they are keen to book again – but admitted it’s important to communicate to the trade and consumers about the safety of the sector.

“We have a lot to do to communicate how safe cruising is,” said Hawke.

“It always has been the safest form of travel, the safest type of holiday.

“We need to overcome a few misconceptions, a few misunderstandings about where cruise might sit in this Covid world.”